B-58 Hustler Experiences

Flying Sideways

by Phil Rowe
The 1960's vintage B-58 Hustler was a unique airplane in many ways. It was a bomber without a bomb bay, a highly sophisticated Mach 2 supersonic airplane, and a delta-winged wonder with many quirks and peculiarities. Smoke and fumes in the cockpit was common. Flying it was a real challenge.

One of its strangest quirks was a phenomenon called "fuel stacking", a condition where fuel in the main wing tank tended to move laterally in flight. This was an especially disturbing problem when the tank was half full or so, and most worrisome during supersonic flight.

I will always remember one flight, the time I flew as the replacement for the back-seater on another crew. We went to pick up aircraft #080 at the General Dynamics factory. That flight was memorable for two reasons. Firstly, we were bringing the 305th Bombardment Wing its very first capsule-equipped B-58, when standard ejection seats were being replaced with Stanley escape capsules, one for each of the three tandemly seated crew members. And secondly, that was the first and worst time that I ever experienced severe fuel stacking.

Minor difficulties beset us even before we took of from the Fort Worth airfield. Nobody at the factory was able to tell us how to use the new capsules, what safety pins should be pulled before flight, or what precautions we ought to observe in using that state-of-the-art escape system. We were pretty much on our own and not a little anxious.

The flight to our Indiana home base was supposed to be a routine training mission, one which included a high altitude Mach 2 (1400 miles per hour ) simulated bomb run at the Matagorda Island range off the Texas coast. We took off from Carswell Air Force Base and climbed to our normal sub-sonic cruise altitude of 25,000 feet. So far everything went routinely.

After refuelling behind a KC-135 tanker we turned toward the coast and began accelerating and climbing. Soon after passing Mach 1, and experiencing only a mild shock wave of transition to supersonic flight, we began to feel that things were not right. Each of us leaned heavily to port (left) in our seat. It felt as if we were tilted to one side and that was a very strange sensation. We were held tighly by our shoulder straps and seat belts, but it felt as if we were sliding to the left. The four engines, now in full afterburner consumed fuel rapidly from the main fuel tank, the only one with adequate pump capacity to sustain our acceleration.

Our pilot struggled to keep us on course and get us to the Mach 2 cruise altitude of 45,000 feet. With pure strength and determination we managed to complete the bomb run and reach the target. It was dangerous, for such heavy fuel stacking could result in loss of control and possibly exceed limits on the aircraft's structure.

After what seemed an eternity we began our deceleration and descent to subsonic cruise. As we decelerated and began descending, the remaining fuel in the tank shifted forward toward the narrow portion. That tended to improve stability and gradually our leaning diminshed. By the time we reached Mach 0.91 and leveled off, things returned to normal.

It's probably a little difficult for readers to appreciate the strangeness of the sensation of flying sideways, of leaning heavily and being pushed by lateral forces to one side. But it's not only a weird feeling, it's really dangerous. Fortunately I experienced fuel stacking only a few times in five years of B-58 flying and never again as badly as on #080.